Expert advice: guide to an effective strength training routine

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I can still remember the tortured feeling of hanging from pull-up bars in elementary school gym class, struggling with all my meager strength to get up. While other kids seemed naturally endowed with physical power, I came to believe that my arms were better used to answer a question in class.

And yet, I have tasted physical strength since. I took a weightlifting class in college and loved how building muscle made me feel. Before my wedding, I became addicted to barre workouts and discovered the satisfaction of being able to carry groceries for more than two minutes without resting.

Beyond the visceral joys of feeling strong, I’m also aware of the health benefits of building muscle. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that combining aerobics with one to two weekly weight training sessions not only extends lifespan, but improves people’s quality of life and well-being. Numerous studies have shown that resistance training is good for mental health: it has been shown to positively influence cognition and decrease depression and anxiety. Evidence also suggests that it simply makes us feel better about our bodies.

But each time I did enough strength training to see progress, my commitment eventually faltered, mostly due to the demands of everyday life. Consumed by work cycles, childcare and utter exhaustion, I pursued the path of least resistance – literally and figuratively. The majority of people also struggle to find time for strength training. While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults do two muscle-strengthening workouts per week, only 31% of us hit that benchmark. So I asked exercise psychologists, scientists, trainers, and muscle evangelists for their top tips for launching a sustainable bodybuilding routine. Here is what I learned.

START SMALL.

For those of us who haven’t done a lot of strength training — or if it’s been a while — experts suggest starting with short but consistent weight training sessions. “Set small goals,” said Mary Winfrey-Kovell, professor of exercise science at Ball State University. “A little movement is better than no movement.”

How small? Depending on your schedule, needs, and desires, exercise scientists suggest devoting 20 minutes twice a week to strength training, or maybe 10-15 minutes three times a week. .

This is backed up by another recent study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which found that just 30-60 minutes a week of strength training can bring significant long-term rewards, including a 10-20% reduction in mortality risk. , cardiovascular disease and cancer. (Notably, benefits peaked after one hour and declined after two hours per week.)

START SIMPLY.

Fitness marketers often try to convince us that any worthwhile routine has to involve fancy machines or specialized equipment, but in fact, you need very little. “Strength training doesn’t have to mean super heavy dumbbells and weights and lots of equipment,” said Anne Brady, professor of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

Muscle-strengthening exercises that rely on your own body weight — think push-ups, planks, and sit-to-stands (sometimes called chair raises) — can be incredibly effective when done correctly and consistently, a she declared. You can always incorporate equipment as you grow in strength and knowledge.

AGREE TO BE A NEWBIE.

Starting a strength training routine when you have little or no experience can seem daunting, especially if you’re working out in a gym or in a public space, to more experienced users.

Many of us “hold ourselves to a standard that we need to look like we already know what we’re doing,” said Casey Johnston, author of the popular lifting newsletter “She’s a Beast” and the book ” Liftoff: Couch to Barbell. “It’s normal to make mistakes. It’s good to ask questions. »

More than anything, learning proper form — and what moves are safest for your body — can help stave off injury and promote a sustainable routine. If you can afford it, consider hiring a certified personal trainer for a few sessions, either virtual or in-person, who will create a workout plan and walk you through the exercises. And if you train in a gym, don’t be afraid to ask the staff for advice.

An advantage of starting from scratch? Your strength will improve exponentially at first. “I think most people would be surprised at how quickly they can get so much stronger than they are,” Ms Johnston said. After a few sessions, she says, “you will really feel the difference in functionality in your body.”

DO IT EARLY IN THE DAY.

If you’re like me and frequently to plan to work out at night but find that at 5 a.m. or later you feel unable to get off the couch, experts advise making time early in the morning.

There is a reason for this. Research suggests that the more self-control we expend throughout the day, the less we have to give at night. “So if you’ve sprinkled self-control on various things and your plan was to train at night,” it’s no surprise that you give in to the urge to vegetate in front of your phone or TV instead of break a sweat, said Elizabeth Hathaway, a professor of exercise psychology and health behavior change at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “Self-control is not an infinite resource.”

TRY “TEMPTATION BUNDLING”

Need an extra boost? Kelly Strohacker, a professor of exercise physiology at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who studies health behavior change, suggests a behavioral economics hack called “bundling temptation.”

It works like this: by “bundling” something we love and look forward to – for example, a favorite podcast or TV show, an engaging audiobook or playlist – with an activity we find difficult, we can increase our chances of making the latter. “Just putting them together can help tone down that initial, ‘I don’t really want to do this, but I know I should,’ a bit,” Dr. Strohacker said. The key, however, is to only allow yourself to indulge in that particular pleasure while doing the workout.

WEAR (MUCH) ANYTHING YOU WANT.

If the idea of ​​donning specific “exercise clothes” presents an obstacle to strength training, don’t bother!

“Wear whatever you’re comfortable with,” Dr. Brady said. “The most important thing is being able to move freely in different ranges of motion.” You might also benefit if your clothes “breathe” so you don’t get too hot, but you don’t need to buy special moisture-wicking gym clothes if you’re more comfortable in pajamas.

REMEMBER THE GOAL IS TO PROGRESS FORWARD.

If you find you have to miss sessions, practice self-compassion, Dr. Strohacker says. Strength training, like any exercise, is a long game, and the ultimate goal is simply to keep going throughout our lives, despite setbacks along the way.

“Our culture is really pushing this narrative of ‘you can do it if you really want to,'” she said. “It’s very simplistic.” Life happens. Research suggests that the real path to longevity and consistency in any activity is “to enjoy it and feel fulfilled,” she added. It gets easier when we celebrate our progress, no matter how incremental, and find our way back when we stray off course.

CONSIDER A COUCH WORKOUT!

If the desire to spend time on your couch feels overwhelming, make your couch work for you: use it as a piece of equipment to aid your workout.

With a couch, you can do sit-to-stand exercises, Dr. Brady said. You can turn around and do push-ups or planks.

And if you want to watch TV while you work on your couch, choose programs with ads and try the “business challenge,” Ms Winfrey-Kovell suggests. During these breaks, do steps or leg lifts, or keep dumbbells next to you and lift until the program returns. Just make sure you can maintain good posture and form.

“We don’t want to exercise with our backs in a prawn position,” she said. But “if the hips are in the right position, the spine is aligned, the shoulders are back, and your feet can touch the floor,” you can do a lot on a couch.

TRY THIS 20 MINUTE START-UP ROUTINE.

Ready to start? Dr. Brady recommends starting with this basic muscle building routine. The only equipment you will need is your own body and a set of resistance bands which you can buy online.

Perform each exercise, in order, 10 to 15 times, then go back and repeat for a second set. The exercises alternate muscle groups and should be done with a moderate level of intensity, regardless of how you feel.

1. Shoes (Where modified pumps)

2. Squats

3. Seated rows with resistance band

4. Buttock bridges

5. Overhead presses with resistance band

6. bird dogs

seven. Resistance Band Pulldowns

By Danielle Friedman © 2022 The New York Times

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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Richard V. Johnson